How Swiss watch makers have seen exports plunge during coronavirus pandemic

Swiss watch exports plunged by more than a fifth in March, the Swiss watch industry federation, FH, said Tuesday, warning it expected the situation to deteriorate further in April.

How Swiss watch makers have seen exports plunge during coronavirus pandemic

Overall, Swiss watch exports fell 21.9 percent in March compared to a year earlier, to 1.4 billion Swiss francs ($1.4 billion, 1.3 billion euros) — with a range of markets seeing devastating declines, as economies worldwide have basically ground to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exports to Hong Kong, the sector's biggest market, plummeted 41.3 percent, while exports to France fell 48 percent, and those to South Korea were down 46.2 percent.

UPDATE: What you need to know about the coronavirus crisis in Switzerland

Exports to Italy, one of the countries hardest-hit in the pandemic and which has introduced some of the strictest lockdown rules, saw the sharpest decline, plunging 57.6 percent.

Watch exports to China, a key market for Swiss luxury products, meanwhile saw a rebound of 10.5 percent in March after falling by more than half a month earlier, “probably in anticipation of the end of the crisis and going hand-in-hand with an increase in domestic consumption,” FH said.

Exports to the United States, the country currently hardest-hit by the pandemic with more than 40,000 deaths, also showed a perhaps surprising surge of nearly 21 percent compared to March 2019.

“Watches priced at over 3,000 francs grew strongly there, in a market that has been very dynamic since the beginning of the year, probably anticipating future shipping difficulties,” FH said.

The federation warned that the decline in overall exports, which covers watches sold to retailer inventories, was significant, but was “nonetheless lower than the drop in (consumer) sales in some of the main markets.”

“A deterioration is expected in April,” it warned.

Following the news, Swatch Group, which owns luxury brands like Tissot, Longines and Omega, saw its share price plummet 6.3 percent in midday trading to 191.15 Swiss francs, as the Swiss stock exchange's main SMI index dipped 1.9 percent.

In a note published earlier this month, Vontobel analyst Rene Weber warned that the Swiss watch industry was in for “the worst decline in more than 50 years”, and forecast that exports would contract by 25 percent this year.

He hinted though that that outlook could be optimistic, since it was based on the assumption that stores across Europe and the United States would reopen in May and June.

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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad